Friday, November 25, 2011

More Collateral Damage in Greece from the Economic Crisis and Religion and Society in Roman Corinth

For the past two years Greece has been enduring the ever worsening effects of the “Economic Crisis”. The desperate need of the government to reduce the size and the cost of its operations in order to reduce its huge annual deficits affects every aspect of Greek life. All manner of taxes are rising, especially related to property and consumption items. The drastic reduction in consumer spending due to less liquidity and general pessimism has driven the high rate of small and medium business closures and fast rising unemployment. For example the mini-market across the street from the Institute closed in September.

In this rush to create a more manageable, less costly and ultimately sustainable state there has been significant collateral damage to core institutions, such as IGME (Greek Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration) and ERT (Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation). A law passed on October 27th – 4024/2011 – by the Papandreou government said that 30,000 older public servants with many years of service would either be forced immediately into unpaid pre-retirement or placed on “labor reserve” on reduced salary for two years before automatic pre-retirement.

Given the demographics of the Greek Archaeological Service and its pattern of irregular intake of archaeologists for permanent positions this law has hit it very hard. For many of our Greek colleagues I am disappointed to say, today, November 25th, is their last day of employment whether they were qualified for normal retirement or not. Our loyal collaborators Vasilios Arvantinos of the 9th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, Zisis Bonias of the 37th Ephorate, and Olga Philanioutou of the 20th Ephorate are included in this most unfortunate and abrupt loss of talent and experience. My wife, Metaxia Tsipopoulou, Director of the National Archive of Monuments, joins them too, alas. As this law will engulf more employees next year, other members of the Service have taken premature retirement this fall. Thus, on Monday the Service will be a shell of its former self. The Greek public and media are mostly unaware of this development.

It is clear that the departure of so many senior archaeologists will allow the government to downsize further and to re-organize radically the Service. In 2012 we will learn how the Greek state plans in this new reality to fulfill its vital mission and to meet its obligations as the steward of the rich and diverse cultural heritages of this country.

In closing, on behalf of the Institute, its staff and its members I wish to extend to our Greek colleagues who are setting out tomorrow on a new path in their lives our deepest appreciation for their invaluable assistance in our research over the years and for the firm friendships forged. You are always welcome to use the Institute and its Library. We look forward to your participation in our lecture series to present the results of your research.

Books of the Blog
The Institute’s Library is growing from purchases, exchanges and donations. Among our many loyal supporters with regular financial contributions and donations of books are Mary and Michael Walbank. Recently they enriched our holdings with two volumes dealing with religion and society in Ancient Corinth from the Late Hellenistic through Early Byzantine eras.

The first volume, Urban Religion in Roman Corinth. Interdisciplinary Approaches (Harvard Theological Studies 53, Cambridge, MA, 2005) is edited by D.N. Schowalter and S.J. Friesen. Using a plethora of sources – archaeological and architectural remains, funerary assemblages, art, inscriptions, literary texts and apostolic letters – the 16 contributors plumb the depths of the polytheistic and Christian religions of Corinth across seven centuries. The broader urban and regional context of this religious observance is surveyed first by G. Sanders and D. Romano. Mary Walbank’s contribution examines the grave goods and practices from cemetery to the north of the city where ordinary people were buried from the early colony through the 6th century CE. The references cited in the volume cover almost 40 pages! The maps, plans, drawings and images supply sufficient visual documentation to support the various lines of argument and the many comparisons.

The second, again with Friesen and Schowalter as editors along with J.C. Walters is entitled, Corinth in Context. Comparative Studies on Religion and Society (Supplements to Novum Testamentum 134, Leiden, 2010). This collection of contributions takes a broader perspective, both in the timeframe, the geographic scope and the thematic issues. There is more emphasis on the period before the establishment of the Roman colony, on the polytheistic religions, and the Corinthia as a whole as revealed by pedestrian survey. Six of the 13 authors participated in the previously mentioned volume. Mary Walbank presents the coinage of Roman Corinth from an iconographic perspective. She discusses the depiction of religious monuments and buildings as well as statuary in the city and the Sanctuary of Poseidon. Michael Walbank , using grave inscriptions dating from the 4th through 7th centuries CE, identifies 390 names and 107 occupations from a prosperous subset of Christian Corinth. Again there is an extensive up-to-date bibliography and numerous useful illustrations. The two volumes taken together form the starting point for many discussions not just on the religious life and practices of the city spanning over 800 years but also on the character of the society in the urban core and in its rural hinterland.

David Rupp

Friday, November 18, 2011

Another Donation of Books to the Library and Computer Applications in Archaeology

The generosity of the Institute’s friends continues, I am proud to report! This morning we received six large boxes of books which are donations to our Library by Beryl L. Anderson. A former librarian from Ottawa, over the years she has been a regular donor of books to the Library. Beryl is a published author herself, writing on plant dyeing, hand spinning and weaving of wool.

The several hundred books focus on Aegean Prehistory (especially Crete), Classical Archaeology and Greek History, and include also site guides and reference works. Slowly but surely we are filling in the gaps in our Library and expanding its coverage. Who will be the next individual to donate their personal library to the Institute???

Book of the Blog
It is difficult to keep up with the ongoing research, the new applications and innovative ideas associated with the ever expanding use of digital technologies and software in the cloud or resident on ever faster and ever lighter laptops. One needs to be very imaginative to discern if any of this can assist you in your fieldwork, analyses, reconstructions and interpretations.

One way to keep abreast of these developments is to read the succinct case studies that are published in the proceedings of workshops, colloquia, meetings and conferences that are devoted to computer applications in archaeology. One such volume is UK Chapter of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology. Proceedings of the CAA UK Chapter Meeting, University of Liverpool, 6th and 7th February 2009 (BAR International Series 2182, Oxford, 2010) edited by Andrew T. Wilson. The nine contributions run the gamut of what our colleagues are doing at the moment in this vast realm.

The ambitious project to put the online the British Museum’s Collections is presented along with its inherent limitations, many challenges and potential users. The importance of tagging properly digital imagery with metadata is stressed in another contribution. The possibilities of podcasting in archaeological research and communication are outlined. Various methods for modeling the past are presented in two papers. One is focused on subsistence strategies in the EB southern Levant. The other deals with the reconstruction of the interior spaces of PPN houses in the Near East. The spatial distribution of anthropogenic materials deposited inside Scottish longhouses of different periods is compared against a periodized “Cognitive Model” using an application of relativity in GIS. Spatial theory in archaeology can be taught by utilizing the 3-D multi-user virtual environment of “Second Life”. Konstantinos Papadopoulos explores the possibilities of visualizing the interior illumination of Minoan tholos tombs in the Phourni cemetery with natural and artificial light. Lucy Goodison has investigated this issue from the perspective of natural light at specific times of the year. And finally, there is Canadian Content as well!!! Nicolas Beaudry (Université du Québec à Rimouski) and Ulla Rajala on the Canadian Archaeological Project at Ras el Bassit in Syria went from a digital topographic survey of an Early Byzantine basilica, to the partial excavation of the church, to the creation of a 2-D plan of it, to the construction of a 3-D model visualizing the existing remains of the superstructure.

There are many archaeological projects in Greece, not to mention the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s efforts for Europeana, which could adopt some of these approaches to their research with positive effect. The references cited in the contributions are doorways to more detailed explanations of the approaches used. The Institute’s Library has other volumes like this with case studies such as these which can stimulate and inspire an archaeologist. Shouldn’t more Greek projects be represented in future volumes?

David Rupp

Friday, November 11, 2011

What Human Skeletal Remains Can Tell Us About Health and Artifact Classification

The second lecture in the Institute’s Fall 2011 Lecture Program is on Wednesday, November 16th at 7:30 pm. The talk, by Dr. Sherry C. Fox (Director, The Wiener Laboratory, American School of Classical Studies at Athens), is entitled “The Surgeon’s Tomb from Paphos and Evidence for Health in Roman Cyprus”.

During the extensive development of touristic facilities from the 1970s to the 1990s in the area outside the city walls of ancient Nea Paphos (modern Kato Paphos) in southwestern Cyprus numerous tombs were encountered and excavated by archaeologists from the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus. There were many Roman Imperial period tombs with well-preserved human skeletal remains in the large cemetery immediately to the east of the city. One of them, the so-called “Surgeon’s Tomb”, presents an excellent opportunity to discuss the health status of the Roman population of Cyprus from the paleopathological study of the skeletal remains. Additionally, medical practice can be discerned through the deceased doctor’s medicaments and instrumentarium recovered from within the “Surgeon’s Tomb”, along with its proximity to an Asklepieion, one of the main healing centers of the period. To contextualize these remains, comparisons of health status will be made between populations from Roman Corinth and from Late Roman Cyprus. While a little late for Halloween, the lecture certainly will demonstrate the possibilities and the challenges of reconstructing health status for ancient populations from their skeletal remains.

Book of the Blog
The material culture remains found in the archaeological record are the primary means to for an archaeologist to date a recovery context and to infer the human behaviors that created the artifacts and the context. To do this artifact specialists, in particular those responsible for the ceramic and for the lithic remains, classify the artifacts as to material, form, dimensions, color and other attributes in order to delineate types believed to have chronological and interpretive value. The majority of such studies are intuitive, following long-established patterns of inquiry. The increasing use of basic descriptive statistics to determine the center and the spread of a sample permits the researcher to draw various inferences from the assemblage.

With the flourit of the “New Archaeology” in the 1960s through 1980s many archaeologists in North America and France attempted to put classification, types and typologies and the analysis of the spatial and temporal distribution of artifact types into a more comprehensive conceptual framework using both robust statistical analyses and mathematical modeling. The concurrent development of desktop computing and statistical software packages certainly facilitated this trend. Underlying these efforts are two ideas explicitly articulated by Robert Dunnell in Systematics in Prehistory (1971). They are, that “…artifacts are a manifestation of the ideational domain of shared concepts and the archaeologist’s access to that domain is through classification of artifact materials” (Read 2007, p. 23).

A certain component of this way of looking at artifacts and their analysis was adopted by a number of artifact researchers working in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. The detailed excavation data that are required, the large number of qualitative and quantitative measurements needed, the sophisticated statistical analyses used and the anthropological orientation of this approach dissuaded, however, many from pursuing this avenue of investigation.

For those researchers who are seeking to go beyond intuition in order to make their “…typologies as a basis for making evident the dimensions that were relevant to the makers and users of the objects we recover and refer to as artifacts…” (p. 23) Dwight W. Read has written a book to address this interest.

In Artifact Classification. A Conceptual and Methodological Approach (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2007) Read follows Dunnell and Irving Rouse when he asserts “…what we call a “type” must be based on properties and distinctions that the makers and users shared collectively as part of their cultural milieu-that is, on what [Rouse] called modes as opposed to attributes” (pp. 14-5). After setting the stage by discussing various underlying concepts and defining crucial terminology he provides a fascinating historical overview of recent approaches to classification and typologies.

A series of meaty, extensively-footnoted and well-illustrated chapters follow. They address: “Pottery Typologies”, “From Intuitive to Objective Classifications”, “Objective Classification: Goals and Problems”, “Artifact Measurement”, “Production and Categorization Sequences”, “Quantitative Classification: Methodology”, “Patterning Based on Type Frequency Counts”, and “Style, Function, Neutral Traits, Evolution, and Classification”. The references cited are copious covering all aspects of this intellectual endeavor. It is worthy of noting that from “our circle of friends” only A.J. Ammerman and I. Hodder are represented there.

In the concluding chapter Read takes one beyond practical typologies through raw material and intentionality in the discussion of types to types of patterning and type definitions. The goal is the discovery of culture types, that is, distinguishable groups of artifacts that have cultural salience, not simply an empirical relationship. Read maintains that “types are real when they are formed in accordance with the patterning found by methods sensitive to the processes that are responsible for the structure we discern in the data we bring forward for study” (p. 304).

If you are interested in polishing your classification game or, even more so, in kicking it up to a much higher plane, then you should read at least Chapters 1, 2 and 11 of this dense book. There are other books and monographs as well in our Library on similar topics awaiting your perusal.

David Rupp

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Radical Approach to Byzantine “Things” and Archaeological Survey

The first event of the fall for the Athens Association of Friends of CIG will take place at the Institute on Wednesday, November 9th at 7:30 pm. Professor Glenn Peers (Department of Art History, University of Texas at Austin) will present a radical approach to the exhibition of Byzantine “art”. Taking the opportunity of mounting a new display of Byzantine objects in the Menil Collection (Houston, TX) he is organizing the exhibit in order that the so-called “art” will be demystified and contextualized so that viewers will see these “things” as the active agents they were in the construction of the everyday world by Christians in the Mediterranean area during the Byzantine period. He sees the attitudes of the members of this society towards their material culture as contingent, relational and animist. Prof. Peers will surely challenge your preconceived aesthetic and cultural notions on this subject. So come, and take a walk on the wild side!

Book of the Blog
The recovery of the material culture remains and associated data from past cultures is thought by many archaeologists as the sole realm of excavation. In doing so the archaeological record is destroyed systematically at the same time it is investigated. There is another, mostly non-destructive data recovery technique, namely, archaeological survey. As this other approach is not as common in the Mediterranean region as compared to excavation and it is not normally taught in the undergraduate and graduate curricula of classical archaeology it retains a certain mystery. In addition, there is reluctance by some to accept the validity of its results.

This situation is certainly unfortunate and unnecessary given the rising cost of excavations and the relentless destruction of the archaeological record by various agents of development. Archaeological survey plays – and can play – an important role in our investigation of the past. Many questions remain, however, such as how does one go about conducting an effective survey? And how can one evaluate the plausibility of survey results?

Ted Banning (Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto) has come to our rescue. In his compact, but dense contribution to the Manuals in Archaeological Method, Theory and Technique series, Archaeological Survey (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2002) he systematically reveals all, and more. He sees his audience as professional archaeologists and students of archaeology with a familiarity with archaeological theory and method. For those with a thinner background in archaeology he suggests how they might still benefit from the book. To assist in this Banning starts with a historical overview and explains survey’s unique contribution to archaeological research.

The book is organized to reflect “that good archaeological survey design must both anticipate the detectability of archaeological materials and facilitate the survey’s objectives” (p. vi). Thus, “the main chapters…follow on the influences on detectability and on three classes of survey that reflect…the main goals that surveyors attempt to achieve” which are “ prospection, estimation and detection of spatial pattern” (p. vi). His many survey experiences, his broad knowledge of the literature as well as his experiments with his students provide an unique insight into the breadth and depth of this data acquisition technique. Banning takes the reader, step by step, through the intellectual exercise that a productive survey is based on. Among them are, the potential goals of a survey, the factors that affect archaeological detection, estimating discovery possibilities, the post-depositional factors that affect spatial pattern, the boundaries of a research zone, types and shapes of collection units, scale effects, how to survey sites and landscapes, surveying for spatial structure and the use of geophysical remote sensing.

While Banning’s observations and recommendations may seem “too theoretical, too counter-intuitive or too much of a departure from years of practical experience” (p. vii) he argues that intuition and experience can benefit significantly from his insights. The illustrative materials are adequate to make his central points, but many require patience to understand the mathematics and statistics behind them. The practical advice and technical information are succinct. The book’s bibliography is extensive up to when it was published.

For those of you who have never participated in an archaeological survey yet must digest the results of surveys, this is the place to start your steep learning curve. For those of you who are contemplating conducting a survey, this book will provide you with a crash course on how to proceed and why. There are other books and case studies in the Institute’s Library that will enlighten you further on archaeological survey, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean.

David Rupp